Zero Carbon Connections

Zero Carbon Connections


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A new team at CAT is working to support councils and community groups in the transition to net zero. Anthony Hurford gives us an overview of the Zero Carbon Britain Hub and Innovation Lab, and outlines some of the ways that it is influencing change.

In February 2020, the new Zero Carbon Britain team gathered at CAT for the first time to begin planning how we would work together to inspire, inform and enable decision-makers to respond to the climate and biodiversity emergency. Little did we know that in just a few short weeks all of our plans would be upended and our newly formed team would be unable to meet in person for many months.

Fast forward to May 2021 and we now have a three-year strategy for working with councils and community groups, we’ve trained over 500 people, we’re rolling out new innovation labs to bring people together to co-create solutions, and we’ve just launched a new online resource hub.

Shaping the project

CAT has been researching and sharing ways of getting to net zero greenhouse gas emissions for more than a decade, but this project has a specific focus on helping councils and community groups, so our first step as a team was to create a new strategy with these audiences in mind.

As a starting point, we needed to know more about what kind of support councils and communities needed to help turn climate emergency declarations into zero carbon action plans. We composed a survey to find out what support they already had and what was most needed that we could provide. We held informal conversations and more formal structured interviews with other organisations working towards net zero carbon, to get a better sense of where the gaps were and how CAT could help. We searched documents and websites to see what was going on that we could build on, or avoid duplicating, and began to form a picture of how we could best play our part in the larger whole.

We developed a theory of change, outlining how we saw ourselves combining and deploying the resources available to us and what impacts we believed that would have, based on our experience, the information we were gathering and the Zero Carbon Britain work to that point. This will be revisited throughout the project to help us build on what we learn, guide our thinking and help us challenge ourselves about how to have the biggest impact in the time available to us.

Interconnected strands

Drawing this all together, we developed a strategy that emphasised the interconnections between three main strands of work that we believe can support action at the speed and scale necessary to address the climate and biodiversity emergency.

The project supports local action by councils, communities and other organisations primarily through an online resource hub, training programme and innovation lab.

The online resource hub brings together the wide range of useful and freely available resources that we’ve discovered through our research and interactions with people from across society who we’re coming into contact with through the training, events and innovation lab components of the project.

Our training courses and other events bring us into contact with a diverse section of society through highly interactive sessions. As well as sharing expert insights and valuable skills, these invite participants to share their knowledge and experiences with each other. Some of these are captured and publicised through the online hub. Training programme interactions help inform us of the critical barriers people are facing in their transitions to net zero, and some of these barriers might become topics for innovation lab processes.

Innovation labs typically involve multiple workshops for multiple people with an interest in, a role to play, or power within a current system for getting things done in society. By bringing all these perspectives together, it’s possible to develop innovative new ways of problem solving together. Outputs of these innovation lab processes will feed into the training, or may help to define training needs for a particular group of people. We’ll also raise awareness of the innovative solutions that are developed by including them in our selection of online resources.

ZCB Hub and Innovation Lab organogram.
Zero Carbon Britain Hub and Innovation Lab organogram

Critical decade

We’re enthusiastic about the mutually supporting nature of these three strands of work, and their relevance to CAT’s wider work, particularly where our research and training can help to influence policy at a national level.

We’re receiving lots of positive feedback about the need for what we’re doing and how it can be even more effective, and there’s no shortage of work to keep us busy in this critical decade for climate action.

Discover more about the Zero Carbon Britain Hub and Innovation Lab

About the author

Anthony is CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain Hub Project Manager, leading on the new online resource hub and supporting our training programme and innovation labs. He has a background in managing large research and consultancy projects, and developing collaborative management approaches for complex environmental systems – the focus of his civil engineering PhD and post-doc research.

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